Life After Spinal Fusion

At 26 I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. I tried physical therapy, steroid shots, and medicine. I went to a neurosurgeon and he prescribed nightly steroids, anti inflammatory medicine, and pain medicine. Nothing worked for my pain. I dealt with it until 2011 when I asked my doctor what our next option was. He didn't want to do anything since I was only 29. I was taking between 3-4 Vicodin a day and he wanted to just keep treating me with pills. I switched doctors and went to a orthopedic surgeon instead. He had me go to an disco-gram which is not as fun as it sounds. Basically you lie on a table, they insert needles into your discs, then bring you out of your stupor long enough to put pressure on your disc and you rate your pain. They want to know how it hurts and if the pain gets better or worse while the procedure is going. Recovery sucks, very sore for 5-7 days, but I remember the experience somewhat, but not the pain during the procedure so thats good. I don't want to vividly remember being tortured on a table. The test proved that 2 of my discs were bad and I needed surgery. I had a two level spinal fusion surgery on 12/3/12. They went in through my front and back to remove my discs at L4/L5 and L5/S1 and they placed cages where my discs were and used titanium screws to keep them in place. They did not take bone from my hip or foot. I was in the hospital for 4 days. I don't know if this is the norm. I developed a heart arrhythmia during my surgery and they monitored it and used medicine to stabilize it. I think that's why I might have stayed longer. I was up walking the day after my surgery. The more you walk the better you will be. I got home and finally took a shower. I had to have help getting in and drying off, but I was able to do the rest my self. I didn't need help getting on or off the toilet which we were all happy about. I tried to lay in my bed, but I couldn't lay flat so I slept in a recliner chair for about a month and a half. The first night I cried because I felt so pathetic. The surgery is a serious kick to your self esteem because you think you made a big mistake and you listen to all the horror stories and you think you are becoming another one. I made matters worse because I used a pillow to prop up my legs and I would sleep that way. I had the pillow tucked underneath my knees and I developed Peripheral neuropathy. This meant it hurt to stand still or move around. It's hard to walk and recover when all you want to do is sit with your leg propped up. Watch out for that! It took about 3 months for my leg to fully heal.  I was miserable with my back until 2 weeks after my surgery. At the 2 week mark my recover time went by much faster. I had a good attitude and my pain was tolerable. I am now 6 months post surgery and I have been pain pill free for 2 months. I just had my 6 month appointment (doing excellent! doc's words) and then only 1 more at the year mark. I am so happy I had the surgery and if you can get past the first 2 weeks I'm sure you will be too. I know that not all injuries are the same, but this was my experience. My surgeon was Marcus Newton based out of the DFW area.  He's wonderful!!!!  Very attentive and really cares about fixing the problem. 
theholtie theholtie
31-35, F
10 Responses May 30, 2013

Oh, and I was 27 when I got the surgery, for reference.

Your story is very much like mine, almost identical! My disc and spine issues were caused by a car accident, however. I also had a discogram and I do remember being awake in a drugged stupor and being poked and having pressurized air blown onto your injured spine... Ow!!!! That was awful. I also had the fusion of my L4-L5, L5-S1 and they uses bone from my facet joints. I was in the hospital for 5 days because the pain was so severe that they were giving me so much pain medication that it was messing with my oxygen levels. So I was on a constant monitor basis and (according to my husband, because I don't remember a thing) several times nurses came running in because my blood pressure and oxygen levels were too low. Scary, but at least I don't remember! Haha. So eventually they sent me home with an oxygen tank and I used that for about a week. I totally agree with you about the first two weeks thing. I was in so much pain, but was also on so much medication, that I hardly remember those two weeks, all I remember was being in pain. Although like you, I was able to bathe, use the toilet, etc. by myself. Since then it's been a slow but steady recovery. The pain I've felt on recovery in no way compares to the pain I was in for the four years before surgery. I am also at the 6 month mark right now and my dr also gave me raving reviews!! :-) My husband and I walked around the entire renaissance festival, up steep, gravelly, dirt paths this weekend for four hours. I couldn't have dreamed of doing that before surgery. It's not easy, but it's worth it. I am so happy for you that you have had a positive experience. :-) I hope others can as well!

I'm so scared

Hi I read your honest statement I'm so scared. I am female 68yrs old and due to have spinal fusion within the next 6 weeks and I am terrified. My 2 sons are 45 and 42yrs old and I have suffered back pain before giving birth had to lie on side while in labour and giving birth. In my 30's pain was pretty bad and in these days surgeons didn't do this op I have lived on addictive pain killers, anti-inflammatories and so much more medication since then. 5 yrs ago I was offered op but was too afraid. Since then I have developed genetic type 2 diabetes (have had every issue that comes with it 2 toe nails removed which took 20 wks each to heal as I go septic very easily no matter how much care I take) This is just one of the big worries I have about having op but surgeon has assured me there will be every care taken to avoid infection. One of my biggest concerns is in all the reviews I read it is so much younger people who have had this op. Is there anyone out there around my age who has had successfully had spinal fusion. I am now at stage I cannot walk outside unless pushing shopping trolley I do have a mobility scooter but pride is a terrible thing. I have a gorgeous 2 yr old long haired chihuahua called Poppy I bought her a doggy buggy and my husband put 2 bricks inside a bag which sit in shopping trolley at bottom This is the best walking aid for me. Poppy still gets walked plenty by my husband. I was so pleased that in most reviews post op patients were able to use toilet without assistance and that was a huge worry to me.
By now I expect you will be well on the road to recovery and truly hope so I would so like to hear how you are keeping and your experiences of op, after op and present. Also if there is any other Golden Oldies like me out there who have gone through Spinal Fusion op Please let me know if it has been a success as I said I am terrified in case I go through it all to be worse than I am. Did everyone have to use wheelchair after op. Are you able to climb stairs (I got double handrails). I have just joined forum tonight, everyone sounds so lovely and caring. I pray you all are glad you got this done and for those like me everything you go through is to help your road to recovery.
Love2246 Ann

How are you doing now? Are u pain free? Im almost 32 and I'll be having L4L5 Fusion on Friday. Im scared to death. In in 2005 I had a L4L5 laminectomy and in 2010 I had L5S1 microdiscectomy and both failed. In 2013 I had a spinal cord stimulator but 2 weeks later obe if the leads fell down. 6 months later they replaced it and now I have the same bottom lead fall down again. So the doctor wants to leave the good lead in and just disconnect the one thats hurting me.
I think im just scared because doctors dont usually do fusions on young people like us. And I dont want to keep having more surgeries every time I get in shape and get my life in order. I would like to have children one day after all of this is over with.

I completely understand! I feel like my life has been on hold since 2006. I'm not going to lie the first 2-3 weeks are rough. It's really hard not to have a "pity party". There was one day I just broke down crying thinking I made the biggest mistake of my life. About 1 week later it was way more manageable. I actually have been back to my doctor recently. Since my surgery 12/2012 it has been hard to turn over in bed and about a month ago I tried to get out of my car and "got stuck". My doctor put me in physical therapy 3 times a week for a month. It helped, but not completely. My surgery site is fine, but my sacroiliac joint is acting up. I'm waiting on a call for a steroid injection. They said it's because I went too long before I had my surgery. Personally I think it's because I subconsciously babied one side of my body and it became trained to pull that joint out of place. My three pieces of advice are: don't buy a gallon milk when you get out of the hospital, buy a half gallon.It may sound silly, but those things really are heavy! If possible buy a recliner chair that's automatic, check outlet centers. If yours was like mine they will have to go in from the front and the back and you won't be able to sleep in a real bed for a while. Make sure you walk everyday after your surgery. It's going to hurt for the first couple weeks, but you need to do it. I hope your surgery is a success and you can finally find peace and get your life back. Please feel free to contact me whenever you need someone you understands what you are going through. Not everyone can truly grasp the weight of back issues and surgery.

Read my story. I have been in your shoes! I hope you will keep us updated as you go!

Really appreciate your positive story ... seems like many want to only post their horror stories. My husband recently had L5/S1 disc replacement, he is home now recovering. We are 1 week post-surgery and he is just now getting pain controlled, however, is still experiencing back spasms that send radiating pain down his left leg (this was the leg that was most impacted prior to the surgery). Did you experience anything like this? If so, is this something that also improved after the first two weeks? I'm curious to know if walking would help with the spasms as well. Interested to hear if you experienced anything like this. Thanks again for sharing your story!

Hi all,

I had almost the exact procedure as theholtie, with the exception of the surgeon using bone from my hip to promote bone growth in the spine (L4/L5 & L5/S1). I was in the hospital for one week, including three days in ICU as I lost a lot of blood.

The recovery wasn't too bad. The hip hurt the most. The tough part is all mental. I dealt with my back being bad for eight years, so overcoming my fear of doing things that used to bring pain was the most difficult part for me. I can run now, not that I want to, but at least I can. After surgery, I would walk at least five miles a day, which helped a lot.

I went to the gym within three to four months of surgery and started off light and stayed with the machines so I could isolate the muscles I was working on. I eventually was able to bench press 325 pounds and leg press 500 on a regular basis, more than I ever could before the surgery, so don't let anyone tell you that you are weak or your life is over. I am an Industrial Mechanic by trade and am still working in my field. I have found that I am much better off doing too much than not enough. Recently, my back is stiff and slightly painful in the morning, but I haven't been to the gym since having surgery to repair the muscle/tendons that I tore on my elbow.

The cold doesn't affect my back, but I do have heated seats in my car and they feel so good on my back. I do still have a large portion of my lower back that is numb and my two outer fingers on each hand are numb on one side and super-sensitive on the other. All in all, not a bad trade off to be away from the life stopping pain I would experience. I had surgery 11 years ago and I can't tell you how happy I am that i have my life back!

elzie65- Thank you for your response. I go to the gym, but I\'m scared to really push myself in fear of hurting my back. After years of thinking you have to be careful or you\'ll throw your back out it\'s hard to turn off that way of thinking.

\"I have found that I am much better off doing too much than not enough.\" I will have to keep this in mind next time I go to the gym and think maybe I shouldn\'t push myself that extra 5 min on the treadmill.

Yes, the hardest thing is getting past the fear of hurting again. It takes time for recovery and don\'t forget that your tissue will slowly \"wake up\". There may be one or two times where you have some pain, but it doesn\'t last long. You know the routine, you feel the familiar pain and your stomach starts to turn as you think \" oh no, not again\". Don\'t worry, if you hurt during recovery, it\'s brief and the further from surgery you get, the less that will happen.

I only had one time where it hurt after surgery. I even went roller blading about six months out! You\'ll get past the \"mental\" part of the recovery fairly quickly :)

I worry so much about it, just like you. I just want to go back though, out of habit and to tighten my abs.

Thanks for that elzie, I had a l5-s1 fusion and a l4-l5 disc replacement, and I find after I over come my initial fear of what ever I'm doing (be it gym,or a sport of some kind) and I know that I can handle it then I'm fine to push myself fairly far however getting over that that initial fear of hurting myself is often the biggest hurdle for me. As theholtie said, after years of being extremely careful it's hard to turn yourself off from that thinking.


Yes, the worrying about your pain and surroundings is a way of life - before the surgery. It does go away with time. Before you know it, you'll forget what that horrible pain was like! I can't even begin to tell you how good I feel. I run on a regular basis, pick up air conditioners, my dogs, heavy engine parts, etc....All in time :)

2 More Responses

Thank you for your post. I am scheduled for surgery on Sept 5th of 2013. I have Spondylolisthesis and my doc wants to fuse L4-L5. I am concerned about it and I have read a lot about how many people still have pain. Question- does the cold weather bother you?

I get a little stiff, but I live in Texas so I don\'t have to deal with really cold temps. Good luck on your surgery. I hope it goes smoothly. I don\'t regret my surgery at all and I hope yours is a success too.

I have l5-s1 fused and a disc replacement at l4 -l5 due to a workplace accident. The cold was a major issue before surgery. Now 13 months out of surgery and the issues with the cold are slowly subsiding. To be fair Australia isn't that cold but it goes to show how sensitive I became before surgical intervention. I'm not out of pain entirely yet and still use nerve stabilisers but overall quality of life has gone up beyond recognition. Best of luck for surgery.

How did you surgery go??

To answer your question about the cold, no, it doesn't bother me. I live in Massachusetts and have no issues in the cold weather that are different from the warm weather. Heck, last year on my way to my truck, I wiped out on some black ice and slid down the street! Yes, it was as funny as it sounds ;) The point is that it didn't hurt my body one bit, my pride is a different story.....

My name is michelle and i am having an anterior/posterior spinal fusion in august. I just want to tell you that your message has been the only positve posting ive seen probably out of hundreds..its encouraging for me to see because this is my first lumbar fusion..i had a cervical spine fusion last year that had complications, therefore ive been scared s..t to have this surgery..thank you.

I hope your surgery is/was a success. I know it was hard for me to find some good stories online so I felt the need to post my story. It is a scary thing to go through and when all you see are the horror stories it\'s very bias. Good luck to you.

Great to hear of another young persons experience with fusion surgery. I've already had physical therapy, shots and finally a micro-disectamy, however I'm still having pain and it looks like this will be the next step. I'm so worried that once I go through the recovery process I won't be able to do the things I did in the past, but I also can't handle this pain anymore.

I feel great since my surgery. I rode 9.5 miles on my bike yesterday. You will still be able to do things. I know your situation isn't exactly like mine, but you have to have hope! Good luck with your future back plans.